Benneth Esiana

PhD Research Student

BSc Hons Biology and Environmental Science, University of Stirling (2008-2011)

Supervisors: Dr. Paul W. Adderley, Prof. Richard D. Oram

Start Date: 1st August 2011

4B182, Cottrell Building
Biological & Environmental Sciences
Faculty of Natural Sciences
University of Stirling
Scotland, FK9 4LA

Tel: +44 (0)1786 467757
Fax: +(44) 1786 467843
Email: >Benneth Esiana

Research Project

Investigating the Carbon Store of Historic Urban Anthrosols in Scotland


Studies of anthropogenic soils are almost always discussed in historical context with little or no contextual references to their potential environmental significance such as their carbon stock. The anthropogenic deepening of soils in urban and peri-urban areas in medieval and early-modern periods by addition of organic wastes is a well documented practice in Scottish towns (Macdonald, 1884; Oram, 2011). Centuries of sustained addition of these waste materials to soils have resulted in the accumulation of organic rich topsoil (deepened soils) to appreciable depths of over 60cm in some locale.

Research studies on the environmental implication of Hortic anthrosols, in terms of their carbon stock and stability, in Scotland are virtually non-existent. Furthermore, previous and on-going work by Scottish Government that is attempting to calculate carbon-storage in Scottish soils has focused almost entirely on peatland and other natural soils, neglecting the potential significance of these deepened urban soils despite their wide-spread distribution. Consequently, our understanding of the implications of management change and the fate of these soils in the environment remains rudimentary.

Project Aims

My research is an interdisciplinary project which incorporates aspects of History and Environmental Science. In its historical context, it aims to demonstrate the potential utility of anthropogenically-deepened urban soils in reconstructing the patterns of activity and changes in past settlement functions by exploiting the chemical and physical properties stratigraphic properties of soil.

  • The employment of techniques such as micromorphology - SEM/EDS, image analysis alongside Near Infrared analysis (NIR), magnetic susceptibility, X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) on the stratigraphic units (SU) of a soil column, the horizon features, in terms of observable and measurable properties, can be defined, both of which can be exploited to reveal past organization and functions of cultural landscapes in space and time.

The environmental aspect however seeks to investigate the carbon stock of these and to consider their role in carbon budgeting in Scotland. Key enquiries will be

  • to determine the total quantity of carbon store in urban anthrosol (percentage C content)
  • to determine the nature and characteristics of carbon (proportion of refractory compounds in the carbon pool relative to active/labile pool)
  • to consider the residence period of carbon and mechanisms involved in either stabilisation or mineralisation of carbon compounds.

The outcome of this project is expected to provide evidence for the archival nature of urban soils as a reliable historical database, as well as to provide a context for carbon stock of urban anthrosols and their role as carbon ‘sink or source’ in the environment.

Other Activities

I have been able to engage in local and international collaboration with other institutions and organisations such as Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH (Jülich Research Centre) in Germany, Historic Scotland and the Scottish Border Council to provide additional research facilities for the project.

Plans for Publication

I am anticipating producing two manuscripts in history and soil science suitable for publication in the autumn.

No. 1 article will contain findings on the relative accuracy of soil records in describing the historical legacy of early urban settlements in Scotland. Comparison will be made with documentary accounts available for the sites being investigated.

  • Urban Anthrosols as Historical Archives – (proposed article title).

Other subsequent publications would involve discussions on the activities and functions such as trade, craftwork etc., of medieval Royal burgh (St. Andrews, Roxburgh) from combining multiply evidence (ethnographic data and soil records) and compare the findings with other Royal and ordinary burghs (Elgin, Nairn, Inverkeithing, Crail, and Kirkcaldy) in Scotland.

No. 2 article will discuss the fate of the organic materials deposited on soils in medieval and early-modern period in relation to their carbon stock, i.e. are these organic rich materials stable in the soil or are they easily metabolised? What mechanisms are responsible for either the rapid breakdown or recalcitrance of carbon compounds in old urban anthrosols:

  • Characterisation of Organic Carbon Compounds in Old Urban Anthrosols using Solid-state 13C CPMAS Nuclear Magnetic Resonance - (proposed article title).

Subsequent publication will discuss mechanism of stabilisation of the organic materials (carbon) in these soils and their turn-over rate, as well as their role in carbon budgeting in Scotland.

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